The 9/11 Commission Report: Limitations of Imagination

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ms. Ranking Member and Other Members of the Committee, for the honor to testify today on the 9/11 Commission’s findings and the critical question of our nation’s security against terrorism.

The Commission report was riveting and rigorous, and many of its suggestions seem sound. In keeping with the theme of today’s hearing, I would like to focus on the role of imagination in intelligence work and policymaking. Certainly it is of critical importance. Certainly I would join those who advocate more of it. But we must also avoid the temptation of thinking that if we just now remember to be creative and imaginative, we will be ok. Good intelligence work is not always about stretching the limits of one’s creativity. It is also about good judgment, common sense, patrolling the streets, walking the beat, and proper allocation of the nation’s resources. We also need to retain a dose of national humility about the inherent difficulty of predicting the future, and to avoid scapegoating the intelligence community when it fails again in that enterprise—as it surely will.